The opening day of the World Championship begins at the Crucible Theatre on Saturday with five first round matches starting out on their two session journey, one of which will conclude on what should be a special day with crowds in attendance for the first time this season.
As is tradition we have the defending champion opening and closing the show on the first day of the tournament and the support cast includes The Masters champion and the Tour Championship winner among others.
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Mark Joyce (Saturday 10am & 7pm)
Ronnie O’Sullivan begins the defence of his title against one of the two debutants in the field this year in Mark Joyce, making this a pretty special occasion for both men with one of them making it through to the second round before the opening day ends.
O’Sullivan is a past master at defending the title so there will be no talk of a Crucible Curse this year and he is probably the worst draw that Joyce could have had. He isn’t going to outscore O’Sullivan and doesn’t win enough frames in one visit to put him under pressure and he certainly isn’t going to beat the Rocket in a safety battle. His best hope here is that he can keep the score respectable and enjoy the occasion. If there were no crowds in here I’d gladly get on O’Sullivan with a handicap but that different dynamic and the quotes from the world champion about it this week puts me off betting here.
Yan Bingtao vs Martin Gould (Saturday 10am & Sunday 10am)
The world champion starts out on table one on Saturday and on table two the winner of The Masters gets his campaign underway as Yan Bingtao meets the European Masters finalist Martin Gould in one of the closer first round matches according to the odds from the layers.
These two players are both class acts which should make for a good match here. I’ve already laid my colours to the Bingtao mast in terms of backing him for this quarter but Gould is more than capable of making a match of this. I’m expecting a close match throughout but Gould was 5-2 down to Bai Langning in the final qualifying round so there is the potential for Bingtao to run away with this. Often a profitable way of betting on this tournament is to watch the first session and assess the play and then get on something in between the sessions. That is the method I am adopting for this one.
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Stephen Maguire vs Jamie Jones (Saturday 2.30pm & Sunday 7pm)
The match that starts out on its journey on table one in the afternoon session on Saturday is the one between the former Tour Championship winner Stephen Maguire and one of the more impressive qualifiers Jamie Jones.
For someone who has been at the top end of the game for coming up to a couple of decades, the record of Maguire here is a very poor one. He has never made a final and seems to regularly lose 10-9 in the first round. Jones might feel he has a point to prove on the big stage after the way his professional status ended the first time round and I expect him to be very tough to beat here. I’m actually expecting a close match throughout between two men who love a bit of a scrap on the baize. Over 16.5 frames will be my first bet of the tournament here.
Neil Robertson vs Liang Wenbo (Saturday 2.30pm & Sunday 7pm)
On table two in the afternoon session the Tour Championship winner Neil Robertson will face a man he is familiar with playing in the form of the Chinese star Liang Wenbo. These two have met here in the past as well as in a UK final.
Robertson has won two major titles this season in the UK Championship as well as the Tour Championship but this is the one he will want. If he plays like he did at Celtic Manor last month then he would have every chance here but the last 10 years have told us at some point he’ll have a sloppy session which costs him dearly. I don’t think Wenbo has the consistency to trouble Robertson but the handicap lines look about right so I’ll leave this alone from the start at least.
Dave Gilbert vs Chris Wakelin (Saturday 7pm & Sunday 2.30pm)
The last match to get going on the opening day is the one between the semi-finalist of two years ago in Dave Gilbert and another pretty impressive qualifier in the form of Chris Wakelin, who took Judd Trump to a deciding frame on his only previous visit here a few years ago.
Gilbert is under a lot of pressure in this match. He hasn’t had a good season and he is defending £100k from his run to the last four a couple of years ago so if he loses this one his ranking is going to drop alarmingly. Wakelin might not have much to lose here. He started his qualifying campaign with his tour future in doubt and now he is on the biggest stage in the game. More importantly he looked to be playing some great snooker in the qualifiers, as he had to do to see off the likes of Lei Peifan, Matthew Stevens and Xiao Guodong. This might go tight but I like Wakelin on the handicap with all the pressure on his opponent.
Back S.Maguire vs J.Jones – Over 16.5 frames for a 3/10 stake at 1.83 with Boylesports
Back it here:
Back C.Wakelin (+2.5 frames) to beat D.Gilbert for a 3/10 stake at 1.95 with Betway